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Topic 9: How to Answer an MPRE Question

how to answer an mpre questionTopic 9: How to Answer an MPRE Question

On the MPRE, you will be faced with 60 multiple-choice questions in two hours. Understanding how to approach multiple-choice questions is critical to passing the MPRE. Having a good strategy to answer those questions will help improve your score tremendously. Many students ask, “Should I read the call of the question first?”  “Should I read the answer choices first?”  In this post, we dissect the best approach for multiple-choice questions that will help you maximize your MPRE score!

On the MPRE, most people have a gut reaction immediately after reading the question as to whether the attorney behaved properly or not. Often times, the multiple-choice answers play off this intuition and you may see an intentionally wrong answer that follows this gut instinct. If you are trying to increase your MPRE score, our approach will help you avoid being tricked and get even more questions correct!

How to Answer an MPRE Question

It is best to answer the questions slowly and methodically when you begin practicing MPRE questions. This approach will cause you to spend a lot of time on each question (5-10 minutes), but don’t worry about timing as you start practice questions. Answering questions in this manner will help you learn the material, which is the most important part of studying!

Remember, this approach should only be used for practice questions as it is too slow to implement on the actual test. You only have approximately two minutes per question on the actual test. So, be sure to incorporate timed tests into your study schedule to ensure that you are able to finish 60 questions in two hours! This is just a beginning strategy so you can see your MPRE score improve from the start!

Step one: read the fact pattern, then the call of the question, then STOP.

In general, we do not recommend that you start with the call of the question. You should start with the fact pattern. When students read the call of the question first, often they find themselves having to go back to the fact pattern multiple times because they become too focused on the call of the question. They read the fact pattern just looking for facts that specifically answer the call of the question, but then they end up missing or misreading important facts. Try reading the fact pattern slowly the first time through and focusing on ALL the facts—you never know what details might end up being important!

Also, don’t look at the answer choices first! If you find yourself glancing at the answer choices, try covering them up as you go through practice questions. Many wrong answer choices are written to intentionally trick you. You might read an answer choice that sounds good, and then you are susceptible to misreading the fact pattern in a way that points you toward your predetermined answer choice. Also, some answer choices might correctly state the law, but they aren’t relevant to the given facts; you won’t know whether they are relevant until after you read the facts!

Step two: identify the topic being tested.

Which section of the professional responsibility outline is being tested here? Lawyer-client relationship? Client confidentiality? Different roles of the lawyer? Caution: Sometimes more than one section is being tested in a question! (E.g., lawyer-client relationship and legal malpractice.)

Step three: identify the issue being tested.

For example, if you can discern that it is a conflicts question in step two, is it a current client conflict? Former client conflict? An imputed conflict? Being able to identify the exact legal issue is crucial.

If you have trouble identifying the topic and the issue, it is a sign you may need to spend more time learning the rules before answering questions.

Step four: state the rule.

State the legal rule applicable to the issue you identify in step three. When you are practicing, it may be helpful to write this rule down to see how well you can recite it. If you can’t remember the actual rule, look it up in your outline and then write it down so that you are more likely to remember it the next time you encounter a similar question.

If you struggle with identifying the applicable issue and legal rule, you may need to spend more time memorizing your outlines and the rules before doing more practice questions.  Before diving into practice questions, try quizzing yourself on your outline by seeing if you can write down critical rules, create charts and diagrams to help you remember the different elements, or have a friend quiz you on the material. It is best to actively review your outline rather than passively reading it.

Step five: answer the call of the question without looking at the answer choices.

On the MPRE, it is very important to review and understand the keywords and phrases that you will see in the call of the question. When the call of the question asks, “Is the lawyer subject to discipline?” what type of answer are you trying to identify? (See topic 8 for more on this!)

Answering the question before reading the answer choices will prevent you from picking a deceptive answer that is intended to trick you. If you find that you need to look at the answer choices to discern the applicable law being tested by a question, you may need to spend more time memorizing your outline and the rules.

Note: sometimes you have to read the answer choices before you can answer the call of the question (e.g., if the call of the question asks, “Which of the following would be proper?”).  For this type of question, you need to review the answer choices before picking the correct one. Otherwise, try to avoid reading the answer choices first!

Step six: find the correct answer choice.

Read the answer choices and select the answer choice that comes to the same conclusion you reached in step five based on the law(s) you just identified.

Step seven: review the incorrect answer choices.

Read the other answer choices and explain why they are incorrect.  As you practice, this will really test your knowledge of the law and ensure that you completely understand the correct answer.

Step eight: write down what you missed (or didn’t know).

Did you get the question wrong?  That’s okay, you are just practicing! Or, did you get it correct, but you guessed at the answer? That’s okay too! Use this as a learning opportunity so that you don’t miss a similar question in the future. On a notepad or legal pad, write down the law that you didn’t know that was being tested in the question.  Or, if you missed the question because you simply misread the fact pattern, write that down! Your notepad will be a great tool for future studying as it will allow you to quickly go through topics that you weren’t familiar with when you started studying.

Also, students often ask us what they should do the night before the exam. If you have been tracking the laws that you didn’t know on a notepad, we recommend just reading that notepad the night before the test! You shouldn’t be doing practice questions or trying to memorize your outline right before the test. Utilize your notepad for a last-minute review of these topics!

how to answer an mpre questionHow to answer an MPRE question—putting it into practice

Let’s apply the above approach to a practice question.  We recommend that you try going through the steps on your own, then scroll down to see how we implement this method.

MPRE practice question

An attorney has a close friend who is a Certified Public Accountant. The accountant tells the attorney that he is interested in starting his own company to offer accounting services. The accountant is looking for an investor in his company and asks the attorney to be a partner. The accountant offers to split the profits of the company 50/50 if the attorney agrees to provide capital up front to get the business started.  The business will only offer accounting services to clients; no legal services will be offered.

Is it proper for the attorney to enter this business relationship with the accountant?

(A) No, because an attorney may not share business profits with a nonlawyer.
(B) No, because the attorney is not licensed to provide accounting services.
(C) Yes, because the company will not be providing legal services.
(D) Yes, as long as the attorney, and not the accountant, provides any legal services requested by clients.

Step one: read the fact pattern, then the call of the question, then STOP!

Let’s look at the fact pattern again:

An attorney has a close friend who is a Certified Public Accountant. The accountant tells the attorney that he is interested in starting his own company to offer accounting services. The accountant is looking for an investor in his company and asks the attorney to be a partner.  The accountant offers to split the profits of the company 50/50 if the attorney agrees to provide capital up front to get the business started.  The business will only offer accounting services to clients; no legal services will be offered.

Is it proper for the attorney to enter this business relationship with the accountant?

Step two: identify the topic being tested.

This question is testing the regulation of the legal profession.

Step three: identify the issue being tested.

The exact legal principle being tested is the ability of a lawyer to form a partnership with a nonlawyer. (Again, if you had trouble figuring out the topic/issue, you may need to spend more time with your outline. This is particularly the case if you can’t even think of where to find this issue in your outline.)

Step four: identify the applicable rule(s).

A lawyer shall not form a partnership with a nonlawyer if any of the activities of the partnership consist of the practice of law.

This rule stems from the rule that a lawyer or law firm shall not share legal fees with a nonlawyer. If a partnership is performing legal services, the nonlawyer partner will receive profits from the partnership that are, essentially, legal fees. Therefore, forming a partnership with a nonlawyer is prohibited when the partnership is engaged in the practice of law.

Step five: answer the call of the question (without looking at the answer choices!)

To refresh your memory, the call of the question is: Is it proper for the attorney to enter this business relationship with the accountant?

Always begin by understanding any keywords or phrases contained within the call of the question. The keyword in this call is “proper.”  A question that asks whether conduct is “proper” asks whether the conduct described is professionally appropriate in that it (1) would not subject the lawyer to discipline, (2) is consistent with the Model Rules of Professional Conduct, and (3) is consistent with the generally accepted principles of the law.

Here, the rule only prohibits such a partnership arrangement where any of the activities of the partnership consist of the practice of law. The fact pattern tells you that the lawyer and accountant will not provide any legal services through this partnership. Therefore, this conduct does, in fact, appear to be proper.

Step six: read the answer choices and select the one that best matches the conclusion you reached in step five.

Here are the answer choices:

(A) No, because an attorney may not share business profits with a nonlawyer.
(B) No, because the attorney is not licensed to provide accounting services.
(C) Yes, because the company will not be providing legal services.
(D) Yes, as long as the attorney, and not the accountant, provides any legal services requested by clients.

Here, (C) is the correct answer.  It perfectly states the conclusion articulated in step five (this conduct is proper because the partnership will not be providing legal services).

Step seven: explain why the other answer choices are incorrect.

When you are doing practice questions, this last step really will help you understand the nuances of the law, which frequently are tested in multiple-choice questions!

  • (A) No, because an attorney may not share business profits with a nonlawyer.

Model Rule 5.4(a) prohibits sharing legal fees with nonlawyers (with four exceptions: (i) death benefits, (ii) sale of a law practice, (iii) retirement plans for nonlawyer employees, and (iv) sharing court-awarded fees with nonprofits). The ABA Model Rules do not prohibit a lawyer from sharing business profits with nonlawyers for activities that do not consist of providing legal services.

  • (B) No, because the attorney is not licensed to provide accounting services.

While it may be true that the attorney is not a certified public accountant, the facts do not indicate that the attorney is providing any accounting services. The attorney merely is providing cash to start the business. Therefore, not being a certified public accountant would not prohibit this business relationship.

  • (D) Yes, as long as the attorney, and not the accountant, provides any legal services requested by clients.

If the attorney provides legal services to clients and shares the profits with the accountant, this arrangement will violate ABA Model Rule 5.4(a). Only if no part of the business involves providing legal services is the arrangement between the accountant and the attorney proper.

Step eight: write down the rule if you got it wrong (or if you guessed!).

Did you pick the wrong answer? Maybe you didn’t know that the rule only prohibited splitting legal fees, so you picked (A). Write down the rule that is articulated in step four on your legal pad to help you remember it, and also so that you can come back to that legal pad in the future to refresh your memory and not miss similar questions!

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The benefits of this approach

While you will certainly move much slower through practice questions using this approach, there are a lot of benefits that make it worth it!

  1. It will help you learn the rules. Instead of just learning fact patterns, or spotting similar fact patterns on future questions and guessing the same wrong answer, this approach forces you to focus on the rule and not the fact pattern.
  2. It will keep you engaged. This is a very active method of studying! Instead of suffering fatigue as you trudge through more and more practice questions, this approach will keep you sharp and keep your mind moving from one thing (reading fact patterns) to another (trying to state the law from memory)!
  3. You will find yourself getting tricked less! If you are able to state the rule before looking at the answer choices, you are less likely to pick an answer choice that sounds good (and probably is there to trick you!) and more likely to pick the answer choice that matches the applicable law being tested!
  4. It will help reduce stress and anxiety. If you find yourself in a multiple-choice rut, constantly getting the same score, this new approach will help you think differently about the questions and will make you feel more confident!
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